Creating Equality and Eliminating Age-based Discrimination in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises


Stereotypes, practical obstacles and possible measures

- Factsheet on the research project -

Forms of discrimination

Access to the labour market

  • Older, unemployed persons have fewer possibilities of returning to working life.
  • Among younger persons, it is particularly those who have no vocational training who encounter discrimination, whereby owing to the effects of multiple discrimination, age discrimination tends to affect, not least, young people with a migrant background.
  • Both young people and older persons are perceived through widespread stereotypes that could have a discriminating impact, particularly on personnel choices, whereby this impact seems to be independent of the size of the enterprise. Indeed it appears to be much more influenced by company culture and the attitudes of those in charge of personnel recruitment.
  • Among the usual stereotypes applied to older persons one finds: lower productivity, lesser willingness to change/lack of flexibility, lower learning capacity, shorter retention times in the firm, higher cost, high reliability.

Disadvantages within working relationships

  • Opportunities for further training are used predominantly by the middle age-group.
  • As opportunities for further training are determined especially on the basis of what makes economic sense for the entire enterprise, older employees are often denied such possibilities in the light of their impending retirement.
  • The share of the further training activity that falls to the SMEs is smaller than that of the large firms, although the further training rates in SMEs do not differ significantly from those of the large firms.

Ending working relationships

  • Younger and older persons are especially affected by dismissals if the enterprise in question has to cope with an economic crisis.

On the whole, it should be noted that, with respect to age discrimination at work, according to current knowledge no significant differences result from an enterprise’s size. Rather, differences in the form and extent of age discrimination are primarily a question of company culture, working conditions and work organisation.

Counter-arguments and avoidance strategies

Advantages of working in mixed age teams:

  • Co-operation among persons of different ages and varying degrees of experience could contribute to the development and productivity of the enterprise by facilitating the input of different skills, experience and background into the work process.

Two different approaches can be identified as basic concepts for enterprises seeking to avoid and combat age discrimination:

  1. Tool kits for an age-appropriate working environment in SMEs
    building on the study of the same name conducted by Pfeiffer et al., 2012

    whereby four areas of action can be differentiated:

    • health und productivity;
    • skill and competence;
    • values, attitudes and motivation;
    • work, organisation of work and leadership.

  2. The “life-phase oriented personnel policy” concept
    building on Rump/Eilers/Wilms: Strategie für die Zukunft (Strategy for the Future), 2011

    one of the objectives of which is the continued fostering of employability, the strengthening of employee loyalty to the firm, and an improved reconciliation of professional, private and family life. In each case, it is necessary for the approach to be established at management level and mainstreamed into all of the company’s operations.